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Candlemas

If you go to St. Albans Abbey for a Sunday Communion or even St. Andrew’s in Blenheim crescent you would notice that they have a Gospel procession – someone carries the Bible to the centre of the nave aisle and the reader is usually accompanied by two servers with candles who stand alongside the book. This is one of the options that is offered for the special services for this Sunday except that the procession may involve the many more people and many more candles. The distinctive feature of Candlemas celebrations is the procession of candles. Usually there is a moment when the congregation light their candles from one another before processing to all corners of the church. The symbolism is of “The entry of Christ, the true light into the world and the gradual illumination of the whole world by Him.”

I am currently reading “On Rock or Sand” the book edited by John Sentamu, the archbishop of York published this month and which has recently been in the news. There are several eminent contributors and the whole is based on a four year set of meetings of academics and practitioners convened by the Archbishop in 2010 following the financial crisis. In turn the idea owes much to the symposium convened by Archbishop William Temple in the wake of world war two from which came the Beveridge report and much of the foundation of our present welfare systems. There has been much comment on the book which in my view is a good thing; for whether agreeing or disagreeing people are thinking about the issues raised. Part of the controversy is that published as it is shortly before an election the question has been asked “What right does the church have to comment in this way?”

Philosophers, moralists and historians have all offered answers but it may be it seems to me that our celebration today may be the core of the argument. We are lighting our candles and illuminating the Gospel at the moment that Jesus is presented in the temple, at the moment when Simeon recognised Jesus, though but six weeks old as the Messiah that Jerusalem, the world and he had been waiting for, at the moment when Anna, outside the sanctuary of course, began to speak about the child.

There is a combination, then, of Jesus coming to the faithful in the Temple, of his identity being revealed and his presence proclaimed. It is evident that the incarnation, the coming of God as man into the world makes it imperative for his followers to speak and act in the world about Christ’s vision for his people.

Archbishop Temple and Beveridge identified five great evils: Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness. These are all with us today; we cannot all write books or call extensive meetings but we can think hard about how within our Christian teachings and beliefs these five might be best addressed, through the mechanisms of health services, welfare provision, education, redistribution of wealth, and employment – this is what the archbishops’ are asking us to do; to take our politics and our voting seriously. The timing of their intervention and their intent to be a critical friend to those in power and seeking power fulfils their vocation.

The Gospel read in the centre of the nave, illuminated by the Light of Christ, being outwardly proclaimed and gradually illuminating the whole world is what we should be about.

Amen

 

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